Extended Nuclear Deterrence in a Pandemic World
Special Reports

Extended Nuclear Deterrence in a Pandemic World

Pandemic-Nuclear Nexus Scenarios Project

Extended Deterrence and Extended Nuclear Deterrence in a Pandemic World

By Allan Behm

The COVID19 pandemic has reinforced two of the main contributing factors to the current age of disruption: the tendency of national leaders to act unilaterally; and the global decline in trust. Rather than acting collaboratively, national leaders everywhere, particularly in Europe and North America, have pursued a ‘go it alone’ policy towards both containing and managing the virus. Some might even describe it as a ‘dog eat dog’ approach. And President Trump’s attempt to corner the vaccine market by persuading Germany’s CureVac company to move its research facilities to the US, and to retain the Gilead company’s Remdesivir production for sole US usage, highlights the triumph of national over internationally collaborative approaches to what is fundamentally an international problem affecting humanity as a whole.

‘Extended deterrence’ and ‘extended nuclear deterrence’, as security guarantees extended to allies of the US, are artefacts of over six decades of US-only strategic policy and planning. No other Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) offers such guarantees. Their fragility was already evident before the appearance of the coronavirus. And given that the credibility of the deterrence doctrine, essentially a US-backed doctrine, has continued to erode in recent years, President Trump’s mercurial approach to the coronavirus pandemic and international agreements has encouraged the allies of the US to look at their national security through the lens of his approach to the coronavirus.

Ultimately, national defence cannot be built on a fiction. The allies and clients of the US will need to look to their own resources to guarantee their security. This is more likely to be a product of an energetic and invested diplomacy, constructive internationalism, the re-generation of trust, renewed regional and international efforts towards nuclear disarmament, renewed global progress on climate change mitigation and, of course, effective global mechanisms to manage and ultimately eliminate the COVID19 pandemic.


Nuclear weapons, extended deterrence, nuclear umbrella, credibility, trust, leadership, alliances.

About the Author

Allan Behm is Head, International and Security Affairs Program, The Australia Institute, Canberra, Australia. Allan spent 30 years in the Australian Public Service, as a member of the Australian diplomatic service, the Prime Minister’s Department, the Department of Defence and the Attorney General’s Department. He specialised in international relations, defence strategy, counter-terrorism and law enforcement policy, and more recently, climate change.